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Birzh massacre memorial searches for names of victims

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The shtetl of Birzh in Northern Lithuania was home to 2 500 Jews at the end of the 19th century. It was a bustling town of business and industry, synagogues and schools, in the tradition of Litvak Jewry. There were political parties, youth movements, and as in most of Russian-controlled Lithuania, emigration to America and South Africa.
by OWN CORRESPONDENT | Aug 30, 2018

All that changed in 1941, with the arrival of the Nazis, who together with their Lithuanian collaborators, murdered the entire Jewish community on 8 August that year. The method of the brutal killing was the same throughout Lithuania, only the dates and the number of victims varied.

Benny Rabinowitz of Cape Town, whose grandfather arrived in Cape Town from Birzh in the early 20th century, is heading a project to record the names of those murdered in the Shoah on a monument to be erected in the Pakamponys Forest. This is the site of the massacre, which will serve as the tombstone for the victims. The date for the unveiling ceremony is planned for 19 May 2019.

However, obtaining an accurate record of names is difficult, as many of the victims are unknown, and available lists are inaccurate. Descendants of families who lived in Birzai-Birzh are requested to send the organisers the names of murdered family members and friends.

In addition to a memorial at the mass-murder site, a tolerance centre will be created at the local high school, where children will learn the fate of the Lithuanian citizens who were murdered only because they were Jews. An exhibition of Jewish life in Birzh over hundreds of years will also be created in the local museum in Biržai Castle.

Valuable historical material needs to be translated from Yiddish, Hebrew, and Lithuanian into English, and the project organisers intend to write a book that will record the contribution of Birzh Jews to South Africa and the other lands to which they emigrated.

Several large contributions have been received for the project so far, but much more is needed. Those willing and able to contribute should contact Benny Rabinowitz in South Africa at [email protected]; Jonathan Dorfan in the United States at [email protected]; Danielle Kretzmer in the United Kingdom at [email protected]; or Glenda Levitt in Israel at [email protected]

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